Ride for your beer!

It’s a Saturday morning. It’s dark and the torrential rain is beating at my window. I see the clock hands creeping around to 6am and try to ignore it but the alarm goes and I know it’s time for action. I peer out the blinds at the rain bouncing off the pavements and cars, convince myself that the day will only get better and somehow get myself and my long-suffering boyfriend fed and out the door to make the 07:33 train to Brighton. If you follow my Instagram, you may have been slightly confused that rather than posing with my usual weekend morning train beer I was clutching a bottle of choco-milk but I had a mission to fulfill with a promise of beer at the end because this was the day of the Spin Up In A Brewery.

Casks lined up to mark out bike parking

Casks lined up to mark out bike parking

In its third sell-out year, the Spin Up offers led rides from the heart of Brighton on or off the roads through the picturesque Sussex countryside to the Dark Star brewery in Partridge Green. Having looked at the weather reports I left my trusty mountain bike at home and headed to the Velo Cafe with my road bike. Getting an earlier train meant we somehow missed the ridiculously heavy downpour that started the moment we came through the door which meant we could enjoy a coffee and cake in dry clothes watching the apocalyptic weather, keeping everything crossed hoping it would clear up before the 11am start. Thankfully with about 15 minutes to spare the sun put in a welcome appearance which made for a very pleasant ride. The volunteers leading the rides were pretty awesome and didn’t leave anybody behind, stopping the group to make sure everyone had a chance to catch up at opportune moments like at the tops of climbs. The views were stunning once we got out of Brighton and the highlight was the most exhilarating descent I’ve ever encountered on the road over the whole one year I’ve actually been riding a road bike – it never seemed to end!

The leaders managed to get us all up to the brewery in just over 2 hours which gave everyone just enough time to park the bikes, grab a pint and get inside before the heavens opened again. Not so lucky were the mountain bikers who turned up covered in mud not very much later but with smiles on their faces having earned their complimentary pint!

Post-ride refreshment

Post-ride refreshment

The brewery itself had been transformed into a massive celebration of cycling and beer with disco lights twinkling off the shiny tanks and cheesy pop blaring out. The main event for me was the Roller Racing, courtesy of South Coast Sprints, which I suddenly decided was a good idea having declined the opportunity to compete every other time I’d encountered it. This time I was beer-fueled. It turns out maybe beer is performance-enhancing since, despite being surrounded by girls who looked like proper cyclists I somehow managed to hold onto 5th place (or at least that’s where I was at the time I left so there’s a chance somebody came along and bumped me further down the ranking). I’ve gotta say that rollers are totally addictive (seriously – they almost had to drag me off as I hadn’t realized when the race finished). If I’d had another chance, I kept telling myself, if I’d only done this thing differently, I could have finished higher but it wasn’t to be so I’ll be jumping on the bikes again at the next possible opportunity to chase that PB. As well as the roller racing, there was a dress-up photo booth, surprise giveaways from ultra-cool cycling label Morvelo and the LBS Rule 5, live music and so much amazing food from pit-master Andy Annat, Mr Bake and Pleb Pizza. Of course the 23 mile ride cancelled out any calories in the enormous rack of ribs and the white chocolate tiffin I devoured.

Getting ready to race!

Getting ready to race!

For £8 a ticket I can’t think of a better day out really. Dark Star has always been one of my favorite South Coast breweries and this was a great way to see where the magic happens in a non-standard-brewery-visit way. I was astonished by the generosity of the surprise goody-bag on exit containing a t-shirt, haribos, stickers and a delicious bottle of Belgian IPA which was greatfully consumed on the train home.I’ll definitely be back next year – I have a roller-racing record to break!

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Stella tasting at beer geek paradise

Hello readers! After a massively long absence I’m back! I don’t quite know why but fitting in time to blog has been a massive challenge in recent months. Now that it’s almost summer, I guess this is where the fun starts and I’ll be updating my blog with more tales of beery adventures. The first big event for me was the Copenhagen Beer Celebration which showcases some of the very best breweries from around the world. As well as the two-day festival, the events during the weeks either side just keep getting better and better. The bars hosted tap takeovers, meet the brewer events and even a book launch. I took advantage of a rare opportunity to see where the magic happens and have a try of Stella 0-5 at Mikkeller HQ.
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We began (obviously) with Stella 0. Only 1300 hand numbered magnum bottles in total were produced for the Danish beer-festival back in 2009 and also as a tribute to Mikkel’s daughter. It is a mix between a barley wine, a double India pale ale and an American strong ale. The first thing to note about Stella 0 was the rich honey and malt in the aroma which meant the incredibly bitter hops were a bit of a surprise. The huge hops gave way to a very woody, mature finish with a hint off burnt caramel that was just enough to round it off without being too sweet.
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So following on from 0 came Stella 1 of which only 1170 bottles were ever produced, again for the Danish beer festival. Billed as an ‘imperial porter with a difference,’ I wondered what this ‘difference’ could be when I heard grumblings of a ‘wet dog’ aroma around the table. As the bottle made its way round to me I was inclined to agree. But what a beautiful beer – rich, dark brown with a thick tan head. Ignoring the ‘aroma,’ the flavor was all about the roasty dark malt. It actually had a bit of an alcoholic burn on the tongue with the sweetness all the way at the back.
Next came Stella 2 and our bottle was actually number 200 of a second bottling of only 200 magnums. It’s a sour aged on white wine barrels which I was kinda not thrilled about since I’ve not been that impressed by white wine barrel aging in general of late. This was the beer to change my mind. With a cutting sour, almost vinegar aroma, it was a real stark contrast to the richness of 2. The sour cranberry flavor was super sharp without being spikey and really deliciously fruity with a sweet finish. According to our guide it wasn’t this sour originally so I guess the time in the bottle has done it good.
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Next came the best of the lot and possibly one of my favorite beers of the weekend, Stella 3. What makes 3 the most awesome Stella of all is that they took the already exceptional Black aged it several times on Eagle Rare bourbon barrels (which also worked well for Texas Ranger). It was so incredible they could only produce 170 bottles making it the most limited edition of the series and it’s also had the longest barrel aging and has the highest ABV. It looked pretty hypnotically dark with a really really deep tan head and the amazing sweet bourbony, nutty aroma was drifting around the table before the bottle even reached me.  The alcohol was warming in the way that bourbon is but there was also the satisfyingly bitter hoppy ending. So smooth and well rounded by that gorgeous vanilla sweetness and bitter black cherries throughout.
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Stella 4 was another hugely dark beer with a massively indulgent foamy head and for me it came close second behind number 3. It’s a dreadfully decadent, chewy milk stout with a bready malt aroma and so much sweetness it’s almost sticky. Interestingly, this is the only milk stout by Mikkeller that has been barrel aged so far. Interesting because it turned out so damned good for sitting in those Grand Manier barrels for 6 months. Limited to 558 bottles, I’m so glad to have one of these sitting in the kitchen for a very special occasion!
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So, the last two were brand the brand new never-before-seen Stella 5, a stout with blackthorne and Polly, a sea-buckthorne stout, both limited to 800 bottles each. 5 was another beautifully dark beer but with a pretty thin head. A gorgeous color to look at with an unusual fruit aroma laced with Christmas spices and possibly a little roasted meat. Although the flavor was sweet and fruity with slight sour and spice, something bugged me about the weird meatiness. Unfortunately, Polly also had the same kind of flavor with the addition of sloes to dial up the fruitiness and the sour dialled up just a little more. Now me, I love a challenge. Was this a challenge too far? Maybe. Luckily our ever so lovely guide in this beer adventure was super-generous with the beer and half-finished bottles were being passed around for a long while after the official tasting – I even managed to sneak seconds of the super-rare 3. Thanks so much to Mikkeller HQ for opening your office to us beer geeks and introducing us to some cracking beers – I hope we get another chance to pop in next year!
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Beer Geek Paradise
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